Hardscrabble Songs
In Situ IS 238

Malcolm Goldstein violin and voice/Quatuor Bozzini on one track

Performance: ****

Sound: ****

Traveling from his adopted home of Montreal, American violinist Malcolm Goldstein ranges world-wide, offering unique performances of New music compositions and improvisations as he has done since the early 1960s as co-founder of the Tone Roads Ensemble with composer James Tenney .

Mostly solo violin pieces, Hardscrabble Songs is a comprehensive portrait of the matchless techniques of Goldstein. Not only are there four variants of the fiddler’s singular art – from Nancy, France and Bounder, Colo. – but the longest track is the premiere of his string quartet, commissioned and recorded in that city by Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini.

Entitled “A New Song of many faces for In These Times”, the four-part suite is an elaboration of the CD’s more abstract title track. This structured improvisation-composition gives members of Quatuor Bozzini – violinists Clemens Merkel and Geneviève Beaudry, violist Stéphanie Bozzini and cellist Isabelle Bozzini – range to vary the framework of the piece according to their own impulses. Built on discordant layering, techniques ranging from mouse-like squeaks in the highest registers to sawing, basso col legno pulses, the composition allows them to interpret “unheard songs” to reflect such descriptions as “brutal” and “agitated”. Climaxing in shrill, stratospheric tones, the finale features accordion-like reedy counterpoint.

Prototypically Goldstein, “Hardscrabble Songs” itself is both primitivistic and formalist. Including fragments of children’s, pop and union songs plus stock market quotations and half-heard words such as “religion” and “racism”, the track features the violinist mumbling, whistling, yodeling and chanting in a melismatic falsetto. Simultaneously, his instrumental prowess, whose timbres can resemble those of a banjo or an old-timey fiddle, encompasses flying staccato phrases, triple-stopping and tremolo vibrations that shrill harshly like metal abrading metal.

With other tracks emphasizing the vocalized qualities of the strings – as well as their antiphony when squeezed – hushed tones and fortissimo sawing alternate. Overall, the “song” most directly referenced is Goldstein’s own; one that should be heard by more listeners.

— Ken Waxman

OPUS Volume 30 No. 1